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Productive Writer No. 16


What to Do in the Last Five Minutes


Regardless of how long you write each day, there's one essential task in the last five minutes of your writing that will save time and speed your progress. Five minutes before you stop writing, make a list of your next steps and ideas for continuing your writing.


I discovered this recently when I returned to something I'd written a few weeks earlier. My last sentence had been, "There are at least three ways to explain this phenomenon." I had stopped writing there, and subsequently could not recall the three factors I had intended to describe next. When I finally did complete that section in my manuscript, I wasn't sure I had the same three I had originally identified. Maybe there were really six good reasons. I'll never know.


Recall from previous postings that you use different cognitive processes when you write about your topic than when you just think about your topic. So once you get in the flow of writing, your mind is working in ways that often lead you in the direction you need to go. You can't always know when you sit down to write what you will write. The process of writing brings you there.


So after you've been writing, when you must stop, it's not necessary to write until you are at "a stopping place." Sometimes it's easier to stop in the middle of a paragraph or page. Just be sure you take a few minutes to make a list or use stream-of-consciousness writing* to capture the likely words, sentences, or ideas you need to write next. Use your "flow" to make these notes on what you would write for the next 15 to 20 minutes if you didn't have to stop.


Then at your next writing session, either later the same day or the next day, you can quickly get back into the productive flow of your writing. You will start to write much more quickly than if you did not have this as a reminder of what you need to write next.


Have you written yet today? How many new words?



*Stream-of-consciousness writing is simply writing down as quickly as you can all the thoughts you have about your subject. Don't worry about spelling or punctuation or spacing. Just write down, even as an outline or bullet points, what you think comes next...and next and next...enough to be able to continue your train of thought and ideas the next time you start to write. 


Jan Allen, Associate Dean

Academic and Student Affairs

Cornell Graduate School